You have got to be kidding me. Somehow, again, I’ve been ditched during hiking again. In the vastness that is Big Bend National Park, in the most remote area of Texas, I have fallen behind. As we all know, I have a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with hiking. After Kilimanjaro, Machu Picchu and many small hikes in between, I’ve come to understand I’m a very slow hiker. Actually, I’m just a ridiculously slow hiker on uphill switchbacks.
In my defense, I have driven the eight hours the night before, getting in at 1:30am with about four hours of restless sleep before waking up at 6:30 to drive another two hours to the park. And without breakfast because everyone was rushing me.
In a group of six, three people dart off as we agree to meet at Emory Peak, a four mile detour up and down from the South Rim trail. The other two patiently wait for me. After awhile, we know this isn’t going to work. I don’t want the two waiting for me to miss the Peak and in a 12-hour hike, it’s very possible at the rate we’re going. I offer up to skip the peak and go ahead; we’re all confident the group will catch up with me soon.
So with a bag of beef jerky, dry mango slices and my two liters of water, I’m off! I’m returned to all my failed hikes before, but I’m determined to keep going. With my blood sugar higher and switchbacks gone, I march on faster and quicker, following the mileage signs for the South Rim. When I finally reach the top, I’m treated to this breathtaking view of the valley:
I wait for some time as I munch on jerky and try to take self-portraits, but after 30 minutes, I know I should keep moving. The problem now is, where do I go? In our haste to move and the assumption they would find me, I forgot to look at a map, have a copy of the map or ask if it was a 360 loop or if I’m going down the same way. I finally spot a sign but the arrows are going both ways with no indication of mileage (remember, I have NO knowledge of anything at this point), so I make an educated guess this must be the top of the loop, and I can go the opposite way which will put me at the end.
After passing a few people and signs, I’m confident I’m going the right way. All South Rim signs have mileage and are pointing to the top where I’ve just been, so I must be going down the other side. After some time, the people and signs fade away and suddenly, it gets very sunny and hot. Earlier, one of my friends commented he was relieved it was only 87 today because if we were hiking down by the river, it was 103. I begin to panic.
Am I going the right way? I know I won’t come across people again since they would have had to left as early as we did from the other side. How much longer do I have to go? Would I get attacked by a lion or bear (very possible)? Would I run out of water? I start half-hyperventalating , half-self-soothing. I’ve been alone before; it’s just one step in front of the other. I’m going down the mountain, so at any rate, I’ll get to the bottom and find help, but what’s at the bottom? What if it’s the river with no one around? In my pack: jerky and mango, a lighter (but with wildfires a big threat, that’s out), a head lamp, binoculars, froggz chilling pad, sun block and bug spray.
I don’t have time to stop and rest much because the bugs won’t stop bullying me, literally buzzing loudly non-stop around my head. I start slowing conserving water, being careful with stepping down in case of tripping or falling off the edge and keeping track of the sun location. When I stop moving, there is complete silence except the sounds of nature. Somehow, I calm myself down (“Don’t be that person who loses it in stressful emergency situations!”) and begin to pray for a sign that I’m going the right way. Every time I slipped into panic, the bugs buzz louder and I eventually take it as a sign from God or life that I’m okay.
Hours pass and I finally hear voices that are not in my head. I see happy cheerful people climbing up a small slope and I spot a sign. It’s the same sign as I saw on top of the South Rim with arrows pointing either way with no mileage. Do I keep going or do I assume this is the start of the loop? The surroundings aren’t familiar from our start, but I’m around people now, so at worst, I’ll get a ride back to the start. So I climb my last slope, crash into a family’s patio and ask for a map.
“Where did you start?” I had no idea. The map is foreign to me. They direct me to the store and hotel down the way and I breathe a sigh of relief. I remember a mention of a hotel when we arrived! So I practically run the last half mile down the paved road and spot our horrible ugly bug-ridden Dodge van.
In that moment, all anger and frustrations fade away. I’m alive. I got out without a map and with logic and wits alone. Part of me knows I would have never been in that situation if I was a better hiker and smarter about my resources (granted, I really thought they would have caught up), but the other part of me is so proud. The store manager lets me hang out inside so avoid the bugs as I write myself a postcard.
An hour later, two of my fastest friends appear. They’re exhausted and barely moving (ha! I was feeling fine physically other than some old injuries). The other three are slower due to one of the girls crying in pain from the downhills. The seem shocked to see me alive and way ahead of schedule. They explain they had lunch at the peak and hiked along, thinking they would find me, but they took a wrong turn and somehow re-hiked part of the route. Arguments ensued, even though they had a map! The competitive/resentful part of me cheers internally for my awesomeness.
But even with my awesomeness, I think it’s time to hang up the hiking boots. So farewell, my friends, you’ve been a formidable foe.